Four Top-Ranked Finishes for BYU Marriott at National HR Competition

PROVO, Utah – Nov 19, 2021 – Two student teams from the BYU Marriott School of Business traveled to Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and walked away with four top-two finishes at the 2021 Purdue HR Case Competition this month. The annual competition tasks human resource students across the country with presenting an analysis of a prevalent HR issue. This year, teams dealt with labor attraction and retention problems at manufacturing plants in the Midwest.

The national competition was hosted by Purdue’s Krannert School of Management on November 3–4, 2021, and featured graduate and undergraduate divisions. BYU Marriott’s MBA team won first place in the graduate division, receiving a $2,500 prize. The undergraduate team finished second, earning $1,000. Jeff Sundwall, a junior in the human resource management (HRM) program, and first-year MBA student Sara Isom were recognized with best presenter awards and $250 each.

The team of MBA students was led by second-year MBA student Gabriel San Martin, who is from New York City. He was joined by first-year students Ron Howell, from Youngsville, North Carolina; Isom, from Provo; Katya Mokhnatkina, from Yekaterinburg, Russia; and Josh Spencer, from Dallas, Oregon. The group was advised by Troy Nielson, BYU Marriott professor of organizational behavior and human resources.

San Martin says the MBA group’s performance took on a greater meaning than just analyzing a problem. “Finishing first validates the efforts our team put into the competition and the things we learned about human resources this semester,” he explains. “Some of our team members recently decided to change their career paths to human resources. Placing first helps all of us, especially those who are newer to the subject, feel that we made the right career choice and have the potential to become high-level HR professionals.”

The undergraduate team of HRM students consisted of Sundwall from Alpine, Utah and fellow junior Kayla Funk from Springboro, Ohio. Seniors Carson McCracken, also from Alpine, and Becca Rasmussen from Columbus, Ohio, along with Amelia Phillips from Lehi, Utah, rounded out the rest of the team. The undergraduates were advised by Cody Reeves, associate professor of organizational behavior and human resources at BYU Marriott.

Teams had one week to prepare a solution for dormakaba, a company that produces security equipment and has manufacturing locations near Purdue. Company officials explained to competitors that they struggle to attract and retain quality talent and asked students to analyze the problem and provide recommendations for solutions.

Both BYU Marriott teams spent more than 50 hours over the course of one week poring over data and conducting external research. Each group’s hard work culminated in a presentation for a panel of judges, which consisted of representatives from dormakaba and other industry professionals. As competition winners, the MBA team will also get the opportunity to present its recommendations to dormakaba executives.

“Case competitions like these are a wonderful simulation of strategic HR work,” Reeves says. “Our students demonstrated that they are ready to take on even larger challenges as young professionals.”

The MBA team members centered their solutions around encouraging employee development, which they believed would in turn increase retention. The students felt that implementing various programs at dormakaba such as clear career paths, technical training, and mentorship would increase employee satisfaction and longevity. The undergraduates focused their findings on how to generate a positive working environment, which included recommendations for how to revamp company culture. The team also outlined ways for dormakaba leaders to value employees beyond the paycheck.

Members from both teams are grateful for their success at the competition and recognize that the event was a valuable experience for their professional development and improving their collaboration skills. “As a team, we were more grateful for the experience than the reward,” Sundwall says. “We learned a great deal about real business problems and how to address them. I’m happy with the relationships we built together, and I loved working with my team.”

“My group and I worked hard in the days leading up to the competition, so seeing the fruits of our labor with a victory was nice,” San Martin says. “Ultimately, however, the best part for me was becoming close with my teammates and learning from them.”

HRM faculty members at BYU Marriott say they are proud of the way their students competed in Indiana. Program leaders hope the success of these teams showcased the preparedness that BYU Marriott students strive for every day in their education. “Through classes, club events, and hands-on experiences, we work hard as a faculty to offer our students opportunities to connect theory with practice,” Reeves says. “Our programs make a point of teaching students current, real-world HR issues during their studies so they are prepared to make an immediate impact in their careers.”

The BYU Marriott MBA team during their time at Purdue University, where they won first place in a national HR competition. Photo courtesy of Gabriel San Martin.
The BYU Marriott MBA team during their time at Purdue University, where they won first place in a national HR competition. Photo courtesy of Gabriel San Martin.
The BYU Marriott undergraduate team on their visit to Purdue University, where they finished second. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sundwall.
The BYU Marriott undergraduate team, who finished second in their competition. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sundwall.
Undergraduate Jeff Sundwall with his award for best presenter at the competition. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sundwall.
Undergraduate Jeff Sundwall with his award for best presenter at the competition. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sundwall.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Mike Miller